Monday, March 8, 2010

Are we living the thesis?

Remember Bob McDonnell’s thesis?
The one we were supposed to forget about?

The one where he said government should punish homosexuals and ban abortion and that working women were a threat to the family?

Remember how that was supposed to be just something he’d written back in his youth (he was in his 30s) and how what we were really supposed to look at was his record as a legislator and attorney general (dozens of bills co-sponsored dealing with social issues, none on job creation).

Because, as McDonnell said during his campaign for governor last year, it’s all about the economy. It’s not about divisive social issues. He was running as the smiling centrist, “Bob for Jobs” McDonnell.

The campaign tactic worked. McDonnell won in a landslide.

But if it was supposed to be a strategy for governing, McDonnell forgot to send Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli the memo. And the centrist stuff may have slipped the new governor’s mind as well.

Late last week, Cuccinelli sent a letter to the administrations and boards of visitors of the state’s public colleges and universities telling them they don’t have the authority to adopt personnel policies that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in hiring or from harassment.

Let’s be clear about this, if you’re against protecting people from discrimination, that makes you pro-discrimination.

And it’s pretty clear that that’s exactly Cuccinelli’s position. While McDonnell may have been running as some sort of centrist last fall, Cuccinelli definitely was not. He’s from the most extreme wing of the Christian Right and has said before that he believes there is a “gay agenda” that must be opposed. In his mind, that agenda goes beyond being treated like everyone else.

It’s not clear that Cuccinelli’s letter constitutes an official opinion of the attorney general’s office, because usually someone in authority has to ask for one of those. It’s unclear at this point that anybody did. The attorney general just appears to be kibitzing. Hopefully, our state colleges will treat the letter as unsolicited advice from Cuccinelli and continue as before.

Cuccinelli was always an even-money bet to do something to embarrass the state and waste a lot of taxpayer money on ideologically inspired nonsense during his first year in office. He’s off to a strong start. In only two months, he’s not only issued the pro-discrimination letter, he’s signaled his intention to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to forestall full enforcement of anti-pollution laws in the state and to go to federal court to try to make sure that no federal health insurance mandate applies in Virginia. The logic of this last suit, citing the moribund 10th Amendment, could be used to argue that Virginians could also be denied Social Security and Medicare benefits at the whim of the General Assembly. For those of you keeping score, that makes Virginia’s attorney general, pro-discrimination and pro-pollution but anti-health care.

But maybe it’s not all Cuccinelli’s fault. He may have gotten the idea that gay bashing is official state policy.

After all, McDonnell refused to renew an executive order that Gov. Tim Kaine and Gov. Mark Warner had signed forbidding discrimination against gays and lesbians in state hiring. McDonnell had opposed that order as attorney general, arguing that the governor did not have the power to ban discrimination, that it was up to the legislature.

Well, okay Governor. But you also refused to step forward support a bill that would have codified the ban on discrimination before House Republicans killed it in subcommittee.

So let’s be clear. You’re real position, in the year 2010, is that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against gays and lesbians. You don’t think they are equal under the law to everyone else.

Are we living your thesis?

You and Cuccinelli and the rest of the GOP are on the wrong side of history here, the same way Virginia Democrats were on the wrong side of history as they tried to hold back the tide of the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Human rights will eventually win out. Your position on gay rights is opposed by huge majorities of younger voters. You’ve already lost the first so you might as well be graceful about it.

The new Virginia GOP policy of gay bashing is not a mainstream view anymore. And it could cost the state the one thing McDonnell says is most important – jobs.

Already a Maryland state legislator has used the action by the governor and the House to argue in a letter to Northrop Grumman, which is currently seeking a site for a new facility, that Maryland is a better fit culturally than Virginia. Like most forward-thinking companies, Northrop-Grumman has it’s own non-discrimination policies and offers benefits to same sex partners. While it certainly won’t be the only factor the company considers (Virginia has much lower taxes than Maryland) it will count. And do we want legislators from Maryland, best known for speeding tickets, high taxes and overrated crab cakes, arguing that you shouldn’t move your business to Virginia because we’re a bunch of backward, Bible-thumping hillbillies? That’s not really the Virginia I know.

But, if we spend four years living the thesis, will we still be the Virginia we’ve always known?
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